The Training Centre
By Aspire
May 3 22

Building Resilience By Jamie Thom

Phillippa Butterworth

Jamie Thom is the author of three books on education, including ‘Teacher Resilience’.

He has experience in a range of school contexts, including senior leadership roles, as well as responsibility for improving teaching and learning.

What is the secret to staff longevity and motivation? What is essential to generate committed teachers who are serious about improving as practitioners? Ultimately, it is a quality that is often neglected in education: resilience.

Resilience is often used in terms of adapting in the face of adversity – bouncing back, preserving and ultimately thriving. It relates to how we adapt to stressful situations and experiences. School leaders are in the privileged position of being able to profoundly influence school dynamics and the experience of teaching staff. The real question is: how can they support the development of this mysterious quality of resilience in teachers?

My conversations with teachers and leaders for my book, ‘Teacher Resilience: managing stress and anxiety to thrive in the profession’, highlight four key areas that are detrimental to staff resilience: performativity, behaviour, data and feedback policies, and how schools approach staff wellbeing.

Performativity relates to school contexts that are excessively focussed on exam outcomes. While all of us who work in education understand that results are important, staff burn out and disillusionment is heightened when there is too much pressure and focus exerted on outcomes. Careful reflection, instead, needs to be given to messaging and ethos in a school environment. Collaboration is integral to this: what mechanisms are leaders putting in place to ensure meaningful collaboration between staff members to support attainment?

Teachers also need to feel that they are being supported to improve their practice, not merely expected to deliver results by osmosis. To flourish in our professional life, we all need to believe that we are making improvement and are supported in doing so. The quality of training and support that a school offers will have a significant impact in dictating how resilient the staff are. Rather than generic one-off whole school CPD sessions, is improvement more tailored to the individual? Is there the potential to offer coaching to help staff identify their own improvement needs moving forward?

The ability to ‘bounce back’ that resilience requires, is tested most obviously by young peoples’ behaviour in lessons. It would be naïve to suggest that behaviour is not a significant driving factor for teachers leaving the profession. Leaders have a significant role to play in securing positive learning environments for teachers. Are there clear and easy to follow systems that are consistently implemented within the school? Is best practice with regards to behaviour management being shared with teachers? Are leaders role modelling best practice and taking every opportunity to reinforce positive behaviour within their schools?

Thankfully the trend for excessive feedback and regimes and data accountability is starting to change. There are still, however, many schools that are simply asking too much of teachers in this area. Streamlining and providing utter clarity on what is expected of teachers, and rationalising the impact of time spent on the progress of young people, will help to make these feel less onerous.

Finally, “wellbeing” has become something of cliché in schools. Leaders need to make sure that teachers’ welfare is not tokenistic, but rather at the core of all decision-making processes within a school. Time and thought needs to be invested in how to make working practices more efficient and effective to enable staff to have the work-life balance that works for them. Conversations about self-care are also vital: how are staff being encouraged to be the best version of themselves in their professional environment?

How leaders are in the workplace: their interpersonal skills, levels of compassion and capacity to listen, can all never be underestimated. These human qualities make teachers feel like they matter, and contribute significant to their ability to cope with the demands that teaching can throw our way every day.